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LOST ITALIAN: Bowtie à la Provençale rich, tangy and hearty

Chicken breast can be tenderized with a meat mallet. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO -- Spring is just around the corner and we are excited for the seasonal change this will bring to the recipes we share with you each week. But, before we say farewell to Old Man Winter for another year, we’re going to send him off in style with our winter recipe finale: Bowtie à la Provençale.

Bowtie à la Provençale originated at Sarello’s when we first opened nearly 15 years ago, and I fell in love with it as soon as I tasted it. It has long been a favorite among our regular clientele, many of whom are responsible for its repeated return to our winter menu. In fact, you’ll find it at Sarello’s all this week as our featured entrée special.

The dish was inspired by and received its name from the cuisine of Provence, France; more specifically, the style of cooking found in Nice and its surrounding area, which is heavily influenced by its close ties to Italy. Pasta dishes are common here.

A typical Provençale sauce would consist of tomatoes, olive oil and garlic, and our sauce is further enhanced by the use of blue cheese and heavy cream. White wine is another component, but only as a flavor builder since the alcohol content fully evaporates during the cooking process.

To make this dish really sing, we add sundried tomatoes, cooked chicken breast and fresh spinach once the sauce has thickened. Tony embraces the use of sundried tomatoes in winter, when the quality of fresh tomatoes can vary greatly, and you can find them packed dry in bags or in a jar with olive oil. Both are fine for this recipe, just be sure to soak the dry variety in warm water for about 20 minutes before using. If using the oil-packed kind, shake off any excess oil before adding them to the sauce.

Don’t let the fancy name fool you – Bowtie à la Provençale is simple enough for even a novice cook to master. I should know, because it’s also become a favorite at home for our son, Giovanni, and this dish is now firmly in my repertoire.

Chicken is a main ingredient, and for this dish we use four whole breasts, each cut in half horizontally and then lightly pounded with a meat mallet until each cutlet is ¼-inch thick. This extra step ensures that the chicken will be tender and moist when cooked. As an added bonus, the chicken can be cooked and refrigerated for up to two days before using.

This dish has some heft to it, so when making the sauce, be sure to use a pan or pot large enough to accommodate an entire one-pound package of cooked pasta, because there’s no going back once you begin tossing the pasta with the sauce. We use bowtie-shaped pasta, also known as farfalle, in this recipe, as its pretty shape is pleasing to the eye and well-suited for a cream sauce. Penne, rigatoni, cavatappi or any medium-sized noodle with ridges will also work well.

Bowtie à la Provençale is rich, tangy and elegant, yet hearty enough to satisfy even the hungriest teenager. The recipe can easily be doubled, and leftovers, if there are any, reheat nicely in the microwave. To usher out winter, we plan to enjoy this pasta dish later this week with a simple salad of mixed greens and red wine vinaigrette, some crusty bread and a good chardonnay. Welcome, spring!

Bowtie Pasta à la Provençale

Ingredients

4 chicken breasts

1 pound bowtie pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

¾ cup dry white wine

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup blue cheese, crumbled

1 cup sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 cups fresh spinach leaves

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese to garnish

Directions

Slice each chicken breast in half horizontally and use a meat mallet to lightly pound each piece to ¼-inch thickness. Dredge each cutlet in flour, coating both sides, and fry in vegetable oil over medium-high heat until lightly browned and fully cooked, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from pan, cover, and cool for 10 minutes, and then cut each cutlet into 2-inch medallions. Use same day or refrigerate up to 2 days.

Next, cook the bowtie pasta in boiling water according to directions on package. Drain and set aside.

Use a large sauté pan or stock pot (large enough to hold one pound of cooked pasta), and cook the olive oil and minced garlic over medium-low heat for 1 minute.

Add white wine and continue cooking on medium-low until the liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and increase the heat to medium, and cook for another 3 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken.

Add the crumbled blue cheese and continue cooking over medium heat for another 2 minutes until cheese is melted. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in the sundried tomatoes. Cook for 3 minutes to infuse their flavor into the sauce; add chicken medallions and cook for 1 more minute until chicken is heated through.

Add the cooked pasta and toss well so that all the noodles are evenly coated. Season with salt and pepper and adjust as desired. If the sauce appears somewhat dry, add some water, starting with ¼ cup, and cook for 1 minute.

To finish, add the spinach leaves and toss until the leaves just begin to wilt. Transfer to serving platter or bowls and garnish with the Parmesan cheese.

“Home With the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com.